Before the end of the 18th century, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs had been ‘discovered’ by visitors whose tastes were shaped by the new Romantic Movement. It became the fashion to visit and appreciate the wild landscapes that were once foreign, secret and frightening places to Lowlanders, both Scots and English.
Famous travel writers such as Thomas Pennant published accounts of their journeys into the Highlands, fuelling further interest. Even Robert Burns passed this way, during a Scottish tour in 1787. His letters refer to an overnight stay in most convivial surroundings, probably at Arden, as well as to a high-spirited horseback race that ended when Burns fell from his horse. ‘I have lately been rambling over by Dumbarton and Inveraray, and running a drunken race on the side of Loch Lomond with wild Highlandman….’
Most famously amongst the later Romantics, William Wordsworth, with his sister Dorothy, and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, visited Loch Katrine (and many other places besides) in 1803, the first of three trips to Scotland. Poems inspired by the visit include: 'To a Highland Girl' (at Inversnaid); 'Stepping Westward' (along Loch Katrine); 'The Solitary Reaper' (at Balquhidder); 'Rob Roy's Grave' (by Loch Katrine – a famous error by Wordsworth as Rob Roy is really buried at Balquhidder!).
The growing popularity of the area was assured with the publication of a literary ‘blockbuster’ – Sir Walter Scott’s 'The Lady of the Lake' - in 1810. Its format as a ‘verse-narrative’ is certainly not in vogue today but it helped promote the image of a Highland Scotland as a place of unspoilt and romantic wildness once the stronghold of the Highland clans. The Trossachs became fixed firmly on the visitor map also because Scott set the story into the landscape - with identifiable features all around, including hills like Ben Ledi and Ben Venue, and features around Loch Katrine such as Ellen’s Isle and Coire na Uriusgean, ' the Goblins' Cave’ (in reality, poetic licence for a rocky hollow on Ben Venue where the Macgregors formerly hid their stolen cattle).